There are few places in the United States as pedestrian friendly as New York City, but that doesn’t make the goal of walking the entirety of this metropolis any less daunting.
For Matt Green, founder of the blog I’m Just Walkin’, his nearly completed plan to walk every single one of this city’s streets, avenues, and sandy, watery, gravelly, off-the-grid stretches is primarily an act of love more than a comment on the accessibility of the five boroughs.
Nonetheless, his adventures have served as a valuable display of Brooklyn’s surface-level secrets and the vast array of stories visible to the naked eye.
We spoke with Matt about his local travels (7,678 miles and counting!), and while the idea of walking the borough in January’s cold may seem daunting, hopefully it will inspire you for when the weather warms up.
BKLYNER: What was walking southern Brooklyn like?
Matt Green: If you were thinking about trying to write an article about a neighborhood, you’d walk the area with the mindset that you’re searching for similarities. For me, the neighborhood I’m in is irrelevant to me, it’s just what I’m looking at in this moment. It’s very focused on individual things and not what separates one neighborhood from the other.
I did a walk across America before I started this, and 99 percent of doing that was rural areas. That and this are largely the same for me, that feeling of being somewhere, walking for no real goal, just seeing what’s there.
I used to live in Bay Ridge, that’s the only place in New York where I’ve actually had my own apartment. I don’t have an apartment now, I just stay with different friends and watch people’s cats.
BKLYNER: Has your perspective on the city changed since you started this walk?Matt Green: In the five or six years I’ve been doing this walk, I’ve ended up at the same place I was five years ago.
I don’t really look at this walk as the collection of the best things in a certain neighborhood, it’s just kind of an opportunity to look at everywhere in New York on an equal footing.
To walk all those blocks once, all the parts become equally significant. It stratifies the city for you. I don’t think about it as, I like this place better, this place was more fun. I don’t have a top 10 list. But of course, some things are more memorable, like the kind of things that I imagine everyone in the neighborhood knows.
BKLYNER: What are some of those most memorable things?
Matt Green: Steve Campanella’s house in Bensonhurst, the statue house. Interesting things like that, where someone has poured endless amounts of time into it and some people might bring people there to see it but it’s more of a neighborhood attraction.
Then there’s The Crete Wonder Garden in Bay Ridge. This Greek guy, George, he lives in Bay Ridge and in the yard of his house he has this enclosed diorama of the island of Crete, this tribute to where he’s from. It’s made of all these miniature things like the kind of blue pebbles you’d have in a fish tank, I found out about it seven or eight years ago, before I started this walk, and he’d had it up for at least a decade or so back then. He said he dreams about it, and then he builds what he saw in his dream, so he’s constantly adding to it. He used to be a tailor.
Everyone in the neighborhood knows George and it’s a pretty incredible thing. Everyone there knows about him but he doesn’t make it to the larger stage of New York, where people from outside the neighborhood know about them.
The things in those guys’ yards are things that you see and look at and can take in.
BKLYNER: How do you decide when you’re going to walk where?
Matt Green: It’s spur of the moment. I don’t know where I’m going to be staying too far in advance. Depending on where I’m staying I’ll walk in whatever area is near that. I’ll just walk out the door and its new territory. At this point, wherever I stay I’ve probably walked that area already. But it’s always based on where I’m staying.
I started this close to five years ago now. As I’ve gotten more into writing and research, that slows down the process of posting my photos. So over time, I’ve gotten further and further behind. I have a year and a half of backlogged photographs now.
BKLYNER: What surprised you the most about this project?
Matt Green: I think a surprising thing about walking is that you don’t actually have to try very hard to go for an interesting walk. There are so many curated lists of things to do in New York, ranking things, you have to do this, you have to do that. Anyone who comes to New York on a trip has to make sure they don’t miss the big sites, but in reality almost anywhere in New York, if you go for a walk and keep your eyes open, it’ll be a really interesting walk.
In 2008, I led these walks around New York in parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. Random people would show up and we’d spend all day walking around. I’d have a route planned out but we didn’t really have a tour plan.
BKLYNER: Are you from New York?
Matt Green: Virginia, but my dad grew up in New York, mostly in Midwood. I hated New York as a kid, it was just this gross smelly place we came to in the summer.
BKLYNER: Do you have a motto?
Matt Green: If you think of the world as things you have to do or you’re missing out, it becomes a stressful world full of things you HAVE to see, but if you think everything’s fascinating in its own way, it opens you up to the world a lot more.